White Shadows of the South Seas

Thirty years before South Pacific would grace the silver screen, an earlier film that also explored the clash of civilizations in Polynesia, White Shadows of the South Seas, wowed audiences with its cinematography and, like South Pacific, a melodramatic love story between an American (Monte Blue) and a beautiful Polynesian girl, Fayaway, played by Mexico-born actress Raquel Torres.

August 11, 1928 cover by Peter Arno.

Inspired by a 1919 travel book of the same name (by Frederick O’Brien), what is significant about the film is that it was shot in Tahiti, featured a supporting cast of Tahitian islanders, and was the first MGM picture to be released with a pre-recorded soundtrack, which consisted of a musical score and a few effects. It was also the first film in which the MGM Lion (known then as “Jackie”), roared during the introduction.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE…Raquel Torres and Monte Blue in White Shadows in the South Seas. (Pinterest)

Leonard Maltin writes the film “features stunning, Oscar-winning cinematography of the Marquesas Islands welded to a story about the corrupting influence of Western civilization, with Blue as an alcoholic doctor who falls in love with native Torres and clashes with an exploitative (pearl) trader…Portions of the beautiful, documentary-style footage were shot under the supervision of Robert Flaherty, who fought with the studio over its emphasis on a melodramatic plot and left the production.”

The film also caused David O. Selznick, one of the top executives at MGM, to quit the studio over a dispute with fellow MGM exec Hunt Stromberg. According to the 1990 book The Dame in the Kimono by Leonard Left and Jerold Simmons, David (Selznick) thought it an idyllic story, Hunt wanted more sex.

Here’s what the Aug. 11, 1928 New Yorker had to say about the film:

GOING NATIVE…Raquel Torres as Fayaway in White Shadows in the South Seas. (torontofilmsociety.org)
HE ROARS AT LAST…A cameraman and a sound technician record Jackie’s roar for MGM’s famous logo in 1928. The footage was first used on MGM’s first talking picture, White Shadows in the South Seas, as seen at right. (Getty / MGM)
WHILE WE ARE ON THE SUBJECT…Five different lions have been used for the MGM logo. Pictured above is Lion #1, named “Slats,” seated next to a less than enthusiastic Greta Garbo in this publicity photo from 1925. Slats was never heard, his career limited to the silent era. Slats was followed by Jackie, the first lion to roar on film (through the use of a gramophone synched to the movie). Jackie was followed by Tanner, George, and finally, Leo. (Getty)

Speaking of Garbo, the New Yorker’s film critic “O.C.” was one of the few moviegoers in the world not bewitched by the Swedish actress. In the same issue this is what he had to say about her latest film, The Mysterious Lady:

CHANNELING HER INNER WALLOP…Greta Garbo in The Mysterious Lady, 1928. (Pinterest, uncredited)

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Revisiting Race

As I’ve noted before, The New Yorker of the 1920s was decidedly mainstream in its treatment of blacks and other minorities as racial “others.” Here is an example (from the Aug. 11 issue) of the casual bigotry that occasionally could be found in “The Talk of the Town”…

…and a few pages on in the same issue, this filler art by Julian deMiskey:

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And to close out the Aug. 11 issue, Barbara Shermund looked in on the Uppers during a moment of contemplation:

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The Aug. 18, 1928 issue featured an interesting dispatch from the magazine’s Paris correspondent, Janet “Genêt” Flanner.

August 18, 1928 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Flanner gave us a taste of how the French regarded the recent “Battle of the Century” between heavyweight boxers Gene Tunney and Tom Heeney:

Flanner also wrote about an amusement park near the Porte Maillot in Paris called Luna Park:

WITH A FRENCH ACCENT…Entrance to Luna Park near the Porte Maillot, circa 1922. (Wikipedia)

Postcard image of the Luna Park’s river ride, circa 1910. (paris-unplugged.fr )
Postcard image of Luna’s Roulette Wheel ride, recalling similar ride at Coney Island’s Pavilion of Fun. (paris-unplugged.fr )
Photographer snaps a photo of visitors to Porte Maillot in 1935. Although the banner on plane reads “Souvenir de Luna Park,” the park itself closed in 1931. (parisenimages.fr )

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From Our Advertisers

Another sports celebrity who didn’t mind relieving Old Gold of some extra cash was Babe Ruth, who was next in line to submit to the blindfold test:

I include this ad for Proctor & Gamble’s Ivory Soap (from a 1928 issue of The Saturday Evening Post) as an explanatory note for the New Yorker cartoon that follows, by Gluyas Williams…

Also in the issue, John Held Jr. contributed one of his famous maps, displayed sideways, full-page (click to enlarge):

And finally, we close with Peter Arno, and two outraged spinsters:

Next Time: Hit of the Century…

 

 

 

Those Restless Natives

The evolution of filmmaking in the 1920s included the development of “docudramas.” Nanook of the North (1922), which captured the struggles of an Inuit hunter and his family, was received with great acclaim. A few years later Grass (1925), directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, followed a tribe in Iran as they guided herds to greener pastures. So when Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness opened at the Rivoli, the New Yorker was there (May 7, 1927) to share in the adventure.

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May 7, 1927 cover by Ilonka Karasz.

Chang, also directed by Cooper and Schoedsack, told the story of a poor farmer and his family (native, nonprofessional actors) in Issan — now northeastern Thailand — and their constant struggle for survival in the jungle. Cooper and Schoedsack attempted to depict real life but often re-staged events. The danger, however, was real to all involved, as was the slaughter of animals in the film.

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According to Ray Young, writing for Viennale, the website for the Vienna International Film Festival (which is screening a retrospective of Chang this fall) Cooper and Schoedsack “open with scenes of domestic bliss and, offsetting title card warnings of the dangers of the jungle, a bucolic Eden ripe for development. But the tone soon shifts as tigers and leopards attack, and the picture evolves into a succession of episodes concerning their survival.”

The perils in Chang often feel rigged, notes Young, “most conspicuously in places where animals appear to have been killed simply for the benefit of the camera. By most accounts, Schoedsack did most of the filming while Cooper covered him with a rifle.”

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I’D BE WARY OF THOSE GUYS TOO…Image from the filming of Chang. (criticsroundup.com)
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JUST PASSING THROUGH…Elephants stampede a village in the film’s finale.

Chang was nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929. It was the only year when that award was presented (It lost to F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans).

However appalled as we are today by the film’s exploitation of humans and animals alike, we have to remember those were different times, even for the usually discerning eye of the New Yorker:

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In 1927 most people had a very limited view of the non-Western world, which was perceived as both savage and exotic, populated by child-like “natives” who in this case “lent their facial expressions and habits to the affair most successfully…”

chang-2And so in 1927 we also encounter cartoons like this one by Alan Dunn that at once dismiss out-of-town conventioneers (here: an Elks Club) as a bunch of ignorant racists, yet the early New Yorker’s own depictions of blacks was usually limited to Mammies and simple-minded minstrels.

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The massive Graybar Building made its debut at 420 Lexington Avenue, the multi-tiered edifice impressing the “Talk of the Town” editors with the latest technology, including push-button elevators: 

The Graybar Building (history.graybar.com)

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PERMANENT INFESTATION…The Graybar’s rain canopy cables include anti-rat devices (cones) decorated with rats. If you look carefully, the rosettes anchoring the cables are also decorated with rat heads.

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The following advertisement needs some explanation: The 1867 Tenement House Act imposed constraints on height and lot coverage that large apartment buildings routinely violated.

According to an article in the Observer by Stephen Jacob Smith (April 30, 2013), “Some developers got out of these requirements by building co-operative buildings, without rental units, but others wanted to retain the revenue and control that came with rentals, while at the same time building larger structures than the tenement laws allowed. And thus was born the ‘apartment hotel.'”

The New York Times’s columnist Christopher Gray wrote (Oct. 4, 1992) that Apartment Hotels were a “widespread fiction of the period,” and “tenants in fact usually set up full kitchens in the serving pantries.” Smith adds that “one of the reasons apartment hotels were allowed to be built more densely than their fully residential counterparts was that there would be no cooking—a fire hazard in those days—in the units.” An so the ad:

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Smith writes that by calling their buildings ‘apartment-hotels,’ builders could claim that as hotels they were outside of the rules of tenement legislation. He notes that “some of Manhattan’s most illustrious buildings were constructed using this legal sleight of hand,” including the Sherry-Netherland on Park Avenue.

The famous scaffolding fire at the Sherry-Netherland, which I featured in my last post, no doubt prompted developers to run the following ad in hopes that people would soon forget about the giant roman candle that burned bright near Central Park on the evening of April 12, 1927.

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If you are ever in New York, check out the Sherry Netherland. It is a beautiful building.

And finally, this ad from the makers of Wildroot hair care products. I love the flapper artwork by John Held Jr., and even better the words “CRUDE-OIL SHAMPOO” displayed prominently as a selling point.

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Next Time…Mode de Vie…

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Batter Up

The cover of the May 8, 1926 issue featured this Bauhaus-style rendering of a baseball player by Victor Bobritsky in anticipation of the 1926 season:

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After a terrible 1925 season (and Babe Ruth’s infamous stomach ache), in 1926 the New York Yankees would begin to form a batting lineup that would become known as “Murderers’ Row.” They won the AL pennant in 1926 (losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in a seven-game World Series) and in 1927 they would go 110-44 and sweep the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. More on that when we actually get to 1927.

The May 8 issue offered more coverage of Spanish actress-singer Raquel Meller’s first-ever visit to America, which caused quite a sensation:

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Raquel Meller

Meller arrived in New York via the SS Leviathan, on which she apparently attempted to book a deluxe suite for her five Pekingese. After New York she also visited Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Baltimore and Los Angeles, where she attracted the attention of Charlie Chaplin. Although Chaplin was unsuccessful in landing Meller as a co-star, he did incorporate the melody of her most famous song, La Violetera, as a major theme in his 1931 film City Lights.

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Meller’s visit landed her on the cover of the April 26, 1926 Time magazine. (Wikipedia)

Theodore Shane reviewed the film Brown of Harvard and pondered the accuracy of this portrayal of Harvard student life:

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(Wikipedia)

The issue also featured the latest attempt at mapmaking by John Held Jr:

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And this W.P. Trent cartoon with a common theme of early New Yorker issues: the comic imbalance of rich old men and their young mistresses:

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And finally, this advertisement in the May 8 issue caught my eye. Although cars crowded the streets of New York, they were still a recent enough invention to evoke the days of horse-drawn carriages. Even with all of the advances in automobiles in the late 20s, this landau-style Rolls Royce still exposed the driver to the weather, a design feature that signaled class, not practicality.

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Next Time: Nize & Not So Nize…

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Parisians & Puritans

In her latest dispatch from Paris, correspondent Janet “Genet” Flanner offered New Yorker readers a glimpse into the French mind, its fear of “Americanization” and its perception of America’s Puritanical attitudes behind Prohibition.

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April 3, 1926 cover by Rea Irvin.

All the more reason the French were bemused by reports that American and English citizens led the lists of reported drug raids in the City of Light…

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or that somehow Prohibition was a question of theological differences:

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The April 3, 1926 issue also offered up some curious advertisements. Aiming square at the grasping Anglophilia of New Yorker readers, here’s a pitch for a used Rolls Royce:

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And with the money left over from your savings on the used Rolls, you could buy this 47-foot cruiser from the American Car and Foundry Company:

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Moving along to the April 10, 1926 issue (cover designed by H.O. Hofman)…

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…I discovered this clever “map” by John Held Jr. For fans of “Boardwalk Empire” or other 1920s gangster-themed fare, Held’s map confirms it was no secret that Atlantic City was a major port for rum runners:

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Also on the theme of Prohibition, cartoonist James Daugherty (Jimmy the Ink) had some fun with New Yorker colleague Lois Long (aka “Lipstick”) by pairing her with New York’s top Prohibition prosecutor Emory Buckner in this unlikely scenerio:

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Note the lock on the fire hydrant. Padlocking restaurants and clubs suspected of selling alcohol was a favorite tactic of Buckner and his agents. Long famously took him task in her Oct. 31, 1925 “Tables for Two” column. You can read about it here in my previous post, “How Dry I Am.”

Next Time: The Great American Novelist…

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